Thursday, March 23, 2017

New Friendships with the People at the High Altitude Training Centre, Days 14-17, March 20-23, 2017

In my first week at camp I was warmly welcomed by my friend and fellow Speed River teammate, John, and other fellow Canadians, Neasa and Kristina (Vancouver), and my roommate, Julia (Ottawa). They made me feel right at home, showing me around the camp and endless dirt roads. Prior to three of them leaving, I knew Julia would be a constant because her departure date was just 1 week before mine. It was comforting to know that we spoke the same language, and within a few days we knew we would make good roommates. We easily got to know each other and quickly fell into a nice routine of going to bed and waking around the same time, eating and running together but not all of the time, and spending our leisure/rest time enjoying different surroundings. Because of a bad experience in high school where I got sunburned before an important track meet (remember, Coach Murray Jackson?!), I have been very cautious about the amount of time spent directly in the sun. It easily drains me. Consequently I enjoy my mid mornings and afternoons in the room with the door open, the Kenyan music playing nearby, the fresh smell as the rooms are cleaned, and the gentle breeze while the staff go about their business. I can easily FaceTime my family and use my computer because I purchased a SIM card. Staying near the wifi pool/lounge area was not necessary. Julia had already been here a month prior to my arrival so she had a nice routine previously established. It can be a bit daunting, going to another country to train for a month, not knowing how your rooming situation will work out. I am pleased to say everything is great. Thanks, Julia!
I knew I needed to reach out and get to know the others at camp. Prior to coming, I was prepared to eat meals and do all my training on my own but was hoping that I would hook up with some english-speaking Europeans. Sure enough, my "New Balance Belgium couple" became my BFF's at the HATC. Frank used to pace many of the diamond league and world major events, and is now recovering from foot surgery while managing and supporting Manuela's marathon career. She too completed in Rio when I did. Within a few meals, we nicely discovered that our training plans were similarly matched, we were both racing on April 23, and at the camp for the same time period. It couldn't have been better. Add in Julia for my first few "easy" runs while getting used to altitude, and some English and French guys, and I had myself a perfect group. 
I think one of the first things I noticed at camp is how much the people are alike. Meals are important and can never be missed, recovery is just as important as training, many have a love/hate relationship with core exercises (particularly when we do the class and the instructor counts 1 second for every 2), bedtime is between 9-10 pm, and we all realize that we are living in somewhat of a running fantasy world. Our beds are made, towels are fresh, rooms are clean, meals are made, and our entire day built around our running schedule. There's no stress, massages are absolutely wonderful, everyone is pleasant and working toward their race goals. Each day I try to reflect upon this incredible opportunity; training for one month at altitude with absolutely no distractions while aiming to run a personal best was a dream that I am now living.  

Monday, March 20
Today was a fairly typical day. I ran 23 km (with some strides) with Manuela and Julia in the morning, had breakfast, rested, did laundry, ate lunch, read, ran 12 km with Manuela, did my core/bike/sauna/sauna routine, showered, had dinner, and was in bed at 9:00 pm.
Tuesday, March 21
Today Bekele met me at 6:30 for a tempo workout. We warmed up on the dirt path toward Eldoret then moved to the tarmac road for 19', 16', and 13' with 5' (' is minutes) recovery jog between sets. We cooled down on the dirt path again then caught a matatu back with Julia, just in time to have breakfast at the camp. I did some preventative maintenance (stretching, rolling), rested, had lunch, read, then went on an easy 11 km run with Frank, Manuela and Laurent (France).  
Wednesday, March 22
Today was my most adventerous and tiring morning. I ran with Julia along the fartlek route but then slowed the pace down a bit, which consequently resulted in me getting lost for the first time. They say it happens to everyone, at least once. So after many confirmations that I was heading toward Iten, a scrape along the shin from a barbed wire fence, and short piki piki ride to the tarmac road, I was safely back to camp with a 25 instead of a 20-21 km run. Julia was so kind - she had set my breakfast aside in the dining room. At 10:00 a group of us, led by Manueal and Frank, headed into Iten to visit a school. I really enjoyed myself and the children just loved having a group of mzungus there. I hadn't been in the sun during peak heat hours so got a slight sunburn. I was a bit worn out so after lunch, I settled into my bed with lots of water and my book, and called it a day, other than getting more water and having a mid-afternoon massage. By dinner I was feeling back to normal again. We took a nice group picture because people were starting to depart the next morning.
Thursday, March 23
Bekele, Frank, Manuela, Julia and I headed to Lornah's new track, which was a nice 2.5 km jog from camp. We warmed up a bit longer, did some strides then each started our own workout. Manuela did 400's, Julia did 200/300's and Bekele paced me through a 2'/1' fartlek. I quite enjoyed the flat surface, which helped create a steady workout with even splits. The track is fenced and free for use for people staying at the HATC but 1000-2000 shillings for others. After our workouts, we jogged around the track and back to camp for our cool down then had the usual oatmeal, bread, eggs, juice, and coffee/tea breakfast. The rest of the day was fairly routine with a 12 km easy afternoon run, time at the gym, and a beef, ugali, sukuma wiki, and mashed potato dinner. I spent a bit of time in the lounge before calling it a day. Tomorrow a group of us will meet at 6:30 am for an easy 15-16 km run. It will be the last run for the British guys.

From Lyndsay in December, Katherine and Lanni in January, Neasa and Kristina in February to me in March, Bekele has had a steady flow of pacing duties from a stream of Canadian women. 

Thank you, Neasa for taking me under your wing and being such a great support: when I got teary on our first run the day I arrived, by showing me around Iten, and making the HATC feel like home. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know you. 

After saying goodbye to John, Neasa and Kristina, I found a new group of friends. 

Breakfast at the club after a long progressive run to Eldoret with a matatu back to camp. 

One of the best things about being here is that everyone is so much alike. Ralph (England), myself and many others packed cans of fish to supplement some of the meals. Sardines was the choice for both of us at this particular lunch.

Axel (France) and Paul (England), two really good friends and good guys, who are rooming across from Julia and I.

Kerio View - a place to go have something to drink or eat, and enjoy the view with friends. Kristina and I went for coffee, right before she left.
The lounge has a tv and wifi, equipped with couches for relaxing after a hard training day.
Signing in at the school. No police check or identification required.

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Manuela and Krista with the children.
Inside a classroom. Paper, pen/pencil and a simple desk is all that is needed.
Here on the desk is a notepad and pen, generously donated to the students by Manuela and Frank. In this particular  classroom, it appeared that the children were studying english grammar.
I love it when it people give back. Here, my good friends, Manuela and Frank (aka my "New Balance Belgian couple" who are at the HATC for the 5th time) are seeing their sponsor child for the first time since last year. Manuela is telling him how much he has grown. 
There were about six of us who walked into Iten to visit the school. We introduced ourselves, stating our name and country. This particular boy became popular when I said that I was from Canada! Everyone pointed out his t-shirt. At first he was shy, but then I don't think he minded the extra attention.
The children were thrilled that they got to go for an early recess because of our arrival. Some played soccer, did gymnastic moves, chanted cheers, or showed pictures from home and chatted with the students.
I showed them pictures of snow, ice hockey, a swim meet, and my family with me at the Olympics. 
The loooove "selfies"!
While waiting for a massage with Dan, I met his daughter who made me think of and miss my own.
Group shot of the gang before people starting departing. Countries: France, Canada, England, Belgium.
Seems like everyone posts one of these pictures during their stay in Kenya. The scrape was from a barbed wire fence, the red dirt is from a morning run, and the pathetic and hopeless toes are from endless kilometers over the years.
Chasing Bekele in a fartlek workout on the track. No hills this time!

Meanwhile, the rest of #TeamDuChene is enjoying snow and a wonderful ski trip in Alberta!

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Kenyan People, in and around Iten and the HATC. Days 10-13, March 16-19, 2017.

I'm nearly half-way through my stay, here in Iten at the High Altitude Training Centre. I have yet to post about my training and the other people attending the camp but thought I would post about the people in and around Iten and the HATC, first. The pictures give so many details and I definitely don't have a shortage from which to choose!

Thursday, March 16. Day 10.
This morning I met Bekele for my first tempo run. I told him I didn't care if the warm up and cool down were hilly, but preferred as flat as possible for the quality work in the middle. Ha! I was quite pleased with my effort and how I felt for the 9 km tempo. He did a great job of pacing me with the range I gave him. We ended up doing a total of 24 km, which got me back just in time for breakfast. Missing a meal is not an option when training at altitude! Shortly thereafter, I felt so good that I decided to do my first load of laundry. Interestingly enough, I quite enjoyed the simplicity of bending over a bucket to scrub and rinse my red-dirt-stained clothes, followed by hanging items on bushes to dry in the hot sun. They were really clean afterwards! After lunch I rested and read then went on an easy 11 km run with Julia and Manuela. I spent some time in the gym, pool and sauna before a shower and 7:00 pm dinner with the group.

Friday, March 17. Day 11. 
This morning I did 20 km, which ended with strides on the tarmac road. It was a bit quiet at mealtimes because the British guys went on a Safari, leaving at 4:00 am and not returning until 7:00 pm! I met Jess from Australia who joined Laurent, Manuela, Frank and I on a walk into Iten. I didn't run, rather just did the core class, in the afternoon as Saturday and Sunday were going to be full days. After dinner I set out my gels and fluids for the long run, and packed my bag in preparation for my trip with Tarah to Cherangany.

Saturday, March 18. Day 12.
This morning we met at 6:20 am to start our progression run. We did a 4 km warm up on the "all weather road" then started the 26 km progression on the tarmac to Eldoret. Frank was on the bike, carrying our fluids. We had a good pace, gradually getting faster with every km. It felt so good to run downhill on a firmer and more consistent surface with the wind on our backs! At the 15 km mark, we had about 5 people, then at 20 km we had 4, and at 25 we had 3. Manuela and I were the two to finish the 30 km progression, with the last 5km at altitude-adjusted race pace.  It was a bit tricky in the end to really pick it up when dodging the increasing numbers of  piki pikis (motorbikes) and people as we entered the heart of Eldoret. It was not long before the entire group arrived, happy with their run and buying water from the shops.
Our group got a matatu back to camp then enjoyed breakfast together at the club. I had a delicious spanish omelet with toast, mango juice and a coffee. I returned to pack, briefly rest, eat lunch then catch a matatu back to Tarah's house for my 2:00 pm physio appointment in Eldoret. Tarah, the kids and I then made the 1.5 hr drive together to Wesley's childhood Cherangany home where he also serves as a Member of Parliament. I met Wesley's many family members and enjoyed dinner and tea in his parents' home. Back at the guest house, Wesley was still in meetings for his upcoming MP campaign. I was in bed just after 9:00 pm and had my best-ever sleep since arriving in Kenya. I think the long run and travel helped with that!

Sunday, March 19. Day 13.
Today was a day off of training for me so I took my time getting out of bed and starting my day. I went for short walk to take in the scenery and actually got a minute or two of reception. It was actually nice to be off the grid for 24 hours. There was a group of people sitting outside of the guest house, waiting for Wesley. It is very common for the locals to come to the house when they know he is in the area. Their main issues are financial support for school and health care. After Tarah returned from her run, we had tea and breakfast together, and relaxed with the kids on their bikes nearby. We then made an attempt to go to church but because several of the churches formed one larger surface we didn't stay that long. Again, many people were looking for Wesley so they surrounded Tarah with questions. Tarah showed me around the rest of Cherangany. I was finally able to see and better understand what the Kenyan Kids Foundation has done in the community. The main projects include milk cooling containers for the farmers and a uniform-making shop to generate income, a small preschool and nursery for early education, and the Transcend Running Academy that provides scholarships for male and female students to attend school and train. They must place well in a 3 km trial in order to be selected. Because they have such athletic talent, the focus is then on schooling in order to have a chance at a scholarship for post-secondary education and competing for the track & field/cross country team.
The foundation also assists with clinics and medical facilities, which has been more a focus with the KKF USA. Agriculture and farming are also areas the foundation has been involved.
We returned to Wesley's parents' home for a lunch of sakumu wiki and ugali then headed back toward Eldoret/Iten in the later afternoon. Wesley drove because his driver had to stay with his vehicle that needed repairing. I was back "home" to the camp around 5:00 to unpack, rest and join everyone else for dinner at 7:00 pm.
I posted several other pictures on Facebook about my time in Cherangany.

The People in and around Iten and the HATC

This young boy looks to be tending to his chickens. Meat and eggs would provide an income for the family.

Cooking in a pot beside a produce stand is common. I'm presuming that because they work there all day, they must eat on site. Usually the stands close around 7:00 pm.

Children play happily while a mother or aunt works nearby. 

On my day of arrival I was happy to see Johana. He's lived and race in Ontario and owns this shop just outside the camp. 

Here is a sample of the many beaded bracelets he can make. I've placed an order for the kids!

Many, many people on foot for miles and miles.

And of course people travel by "piki pikis". This was taken in the morning when it was chilly for the locals. 

How sweet is she?

I thought I was capturing a video of this but it was just a picture. The kids were playing quietly and once the boy in the blue t-shirt saw me, he started smiling away for the camera! Some children are shy whereas others enjoy the attention from the many mzungus (white people) at the camp. Of course countless children have joined us for parts of our runs while on their way to or from school.

I can't get over the way they bend from the waist to sweep, clean floors (with a towel, not a mop), cook and do other sorts of work. Tarah said that when doing dishes once with Wesley's sister, she asked if the rinse bin could be placed on the floor as it was more comfortable for her!

You can pay or do your own laundry here at this station equipped with sunlight bars and brushes for scrubbing.

Security is top-notch and 24-7.

Back view into the kitchen. The days are long so often the lights are turned off just after 8:00 pm so that they can get home and return again in the early morning.

Sweeping, bending over from the waist.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Prepare, cook and clean up. Repeat.

The pool is chilly but feels great after a run and time spent in the sauna. 

Workers at the camp taking a well-deserved break from cleaning the rooms.

These two sweethearts ran up to Frank for a hug and hand-holding.

Photo (by her request) at the market after making a purchase.

So convenient and inexpensive to pick up an avocado or mango to go with a meal.

Never thought I'd do it. One of sixteen people in a matatu on my way to Tarah's house, which is between Iten and Eldoret. Only about a $0.10 trip. It's all about getting out of my comfort zone!